County Government can’t recess their obligation to follow the Right To Know Law

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By Tom Tardif

When the Belknap County’s Delegation could not achieve a quorum, it recessed the assembly to another date and time to avoid the noticing requirements of RSA 91-A and RSA 24:9-c and 24:9–d which is a violation of RSA 91-A:2 II.

To date, not one of the 10 New Hampshire County Conventions has exercised its right to form a Charter commission.  For one, Belknap County’s Convention has never even adopted Rules of Order, Policy, or a Memorandum of Understanding defining its mission, authorities and activities. Accordingly, in the absence of a County Charter, only New Hampshire Law governs any County.

County government consist of three distinct public bodies:

  • The Convention
  • The Convention’s Executive Committee
  • The Commission

Each is embraced by the Right-to-Know law.  In order for any action to take place by either of these representative body’s, they shall  assemble as a majority or a quorum of the membership.  Also, only “yes” or “no” votes shall be included in the calculation of any majority (RSA 33:7-a).

The chair of the county convention / delegation shall set the time and place for the first meeting of the county convention to be held during the week of the second Wednesday of December of each even-numbered year, a notice of which shall comply with RSA 91-A and RSA 24:9-c and –d.

  • The chairperson of the convention or a majority of the members of the convention may, and the chairperson of the convention upon the written request of the county commissioners shall, call a further meeting or meetings of the county convention (RSA 24:9-c).
  • Officers and Executive Committee, at its first regular meeting, or at any subsequent meeting when necessary, the county convention shall elect a chairperson, vice-chairperson, clerk, and an executive committee (RSA 24:2).
  • The executive committee shall elect its chairperson, vice-chairperson, and clerk. Officers of the county convention may be officers of the executive committee an election that shall be public which shall not be by secret paper ballot (RSA 24:2-a).

Of the three aforecited County governmental bodies, only the Convention is bound by more stringent requirements;  In addition to RSA 91-A:2, II, per RSA 24:9- c “… further meeting or meetings” and RSA 24:9-d “…The clerk of the convention, or his or her designee, shall mail to each member of the convention a notice stating the time, place and purpose of further meetings at least 7 days before the day of the meeting and shall cause to be published a like notice at least 7 days before the day of the meeting in a newspaper of general circulation in the county.”

A quorum or majority thereof, or any legislative body, a governing body, commission, committee, or authority of any county, advisory committee thereto capable of conducting business.  Conversely, the absence a quorum renders an assembly incapable of conducting business. A quorum protects against unrepresentative action in the name of the public body by an unduly small number of members (RSA 91-A:1-a, III). All rights, authority and powers of the county commissioners shall be exercised only by vote of a majority of the county commissioners (RSA 28:1-b).

There should be no dispute that the chairperson of any government body may schedule a meeting.  The applicable laws allows the chairman, with or without a quorum to announce a new meeting date but no law absolves or precludes the requirements for a notice (RSA 91-A:2 or RSA 24:9-d).  What is well established in RSA 91-A:2, II and RSA 24: 9-d the absent a quorum negates any action taken, specifically a recess.

[Art.] 20. [Quorum, What Constitutes.] A majority of the members of the House of Representatives shall be a “quorum” for doing business.  Also, when the newly elected members of the New Hampshire Legislature take their oath of office they also sign an agreement that they will serve on the county convention. RSA 91-A1 -a, III describes a quorum or majority thereof, or any legislative body, a governing body, commission, committee, or authority of any county, advisory committee thereto capable of conducting business.  Conversely, the absence a quorum renders an assembly incapable of conducting business. A quorum protects against unrepresentative action in the name of the public body by an unduly small number of members.

Having cited the above, Belknap County’s Delegation in 2016, ignored all of the above when it could not achieve a quorum, it recesses the assembly to another date and time to avoid the noticing requirements of RSA 91-A and RSA 24:9-c and –d.  The Convention schedule a meeting in Laconia when the State Legislature was in session, which can’t have taken place. The Superior Court found nothing wrong with that process so it has been appealed to the Supreme Court (Thomas A. Tardif v. Belknap County Convention Case 2017-0650).  In addition the commissioners filed a counterclaim which was denied and now has filed a Mandatory appeal with the Supreme Court for cost and fees.

 

 

Tom Tardif is a member of Right to Know New Hampshire and a resident of Laconia. He can be emailed at righttoknownh@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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